Thieving Hyenas

We wanted a final night on the lake and taking a careful look at the shore line found a lodge that we thought might have clear water. Sangilo Sanctuary was in a private cove and was a lovely peaceful place. We got on really well with the owner, a fellow Brit who had run an overland company for a number of years, taking groups of travellers for long trips through Africa. He had some great stories to tell. We planned to stay for 2 days but ended up staying for 3 and had a nice relaxed time. The water wasn’t as clear as we’d hoped but we still went for several swims which was a chance to cool down and at least to get some exercise!

Back at Cape McClear we’d seen huge plumes of what looked like smoke over the lake. These were in fact clouds of flies, millions and millions of them billowing up into the sky and drifting across the lake. Sometimes they come ashore, when apparently they are collected and made into patties or a relish by some of the local tribes people. A good source of protein. Yum. They came ashore whilst we were at Sangilo, thankfully not in the numbers we’d seen over the water but still enough to make small clouds. However, we stuck with steak and curry.

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Anyone for a fly pancake?

After three days we uprooted ourselves for the long journey to the Nyika Plateau National Park, stopping at a small town for bread on the way through. The first half of the journey was on reasonable tarmac but this changed to dirt for the trip up the west side of the mountains and into the park. Much of it was actually pretty good but, as usual, the closer we got the the National Park the worse the road got.

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One of the better sections of road

But it was so worth it. The plateau was unlike anything else we’d seen in Malawi. You could be forgiven for thinking you were in the Brecon Beacons or some other part of the UK.

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The beautiful Nyika Plateau

It was raining and cold when we arrived. At around 2,000m the climate up here is different from the hot and steamy lakeside and we definitely needed our coats. We had an incredibly friendly welcome into a cosy room where we were given a complimentary cup of tea in front of a log fire. Then we were directed to our camp site which had a great view over the hills and individual lapas to provide a bit of shelter from the elements. We joined a fellow traveller, Bjorn, who we’d first met a few days before at Lukwe. He was a lovely guy and a bit of a kindred spirit and we got on really well with him. He had driven all the way from his home in Holland, down through Greece, crossing to Egypt and then coming through Sudan before hitting Ethiopia ad the countries further south. We’d been too nervous to try the full trip from home because of driving through these countries but he had done it all on his own. Doffed cap. The camp site was quite exposed and we all huddled around a fire that the staff had lit for us, keeping warm and chewing the fat. He headed off in the morning and we explored the plateau. We had the park to ourselves. The weather moved in a all we could see at some of the view points was fog but lower down there were still spectacular views across this unexpected highland park. 

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We promise we haven’t sneaked back to Wales…

Due to the rains, some of the park was inaccessible and even the tracks that were open were wet in places. Most of the day was uneventful but as we headed home we had a nice few tests in store. Our chosen track led down to a small river crossing with a bridge made from steel girders and wooden planks. Unfortunately several of the planks were rotten. We got out to have a look and poked them and the rotten wood fell away into the stream below leaving large holes in the bridge. Great! We had a really good look at the steel structure and found that the girders were about the same width apart as the Landy wheels, if you squinted. As long as we went slowly and straight it would be ok. Angela was driving and so Gareth guided her across. Shame we didn’t get a photo of Angela’s face – it must have been a picture as it was a bit nerve-wracking! We got across ok, although as the bridge was at 90 degrees to the track it meant that getting a straight line was pretty much impossible and the wheels were somewhat closer to the edge of the girders than would have been desirable…

Then the track wound back up the valley side, hugging it closely. It was narrow and the slope dropped away steeply in places. Just the kind of driving conditions Angela loves! Not. At one point the car bogged in a very wet hollow and the back slid out towards the edge. More steam Egor! A blip on the throttle and we were out. Phew. Then another bridge, stone this time, which was only just wide enough for the car and again was on a bend. Some more guiding by Gareth and we were over safely. Finally, we came round another corner to find the inside of the track washed out by rain water. This had produced a nice little cross-fall into a steep bank. We gingerly crept forward, the car sliding sideways towards the bank. We were right on the cusp of the car’s balancing point. Rolling into the bank would not be a good end to the day, although at least it was sliding into the hillside not down the slope! Slowly, slowly we drove forward barely breathing as the car teetered on the slope. Gradually the track levelled out and we could breath a sigh of relief. Where’s that wine-glass of gin when you need it…?

A nice herd of Roan antelope gave us something to relieve the pent-up tension on the way home. They are quite rare, although there are plenty at Nyika. Brilliant looking animals. Surely JK Rowling had seen these before creating the character of Dobby?

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Dobby-esque Roan antelope

We returned to camp as the weather closed in again. It was cold and damp, misty and drizzling. We had dinner under the cover of the lapa, leaving our firewood bag, braai rack bag and roof tent cover under the shelter to keep them dry over night and headed for the warmth of our tent for a good night’s sleep. We could hear hyenas calling, their rather eerie and plaintive “Whooooo-oop” carrying across the valley. They were not far away. At about midnight Angela was half awake and trying to put off the need to go to the loo. There was a funny sound outside, like something being dragged. It stopped, then there it was again. Something being dragged. Plastic maybe. It was coming from near the lapa, just to the side of the tent. Then the penny dropped. Oh shit. “Gareth, I think the hyenas are stealing our tent cover”. Gareth, who had been fast asleep, woke with a start. “What?”. “The hyenas, I think they’re trying to steal our tent cover”. All was silent outside. We unzipped the tent door and peered out. It was pitch black. In our head torch light we could see the tent cover. It was untouched. But one of the bags seemed to be missing. “What are we going to do?” Hyenas are large, powerful animals. You do not want to mess with them. “I need the loo, so maybe we go down and see?”. “Okay”. We cautiously climbed down the ladder, shining our torches all around. By now the second bag had also gone and in the torch light, about 5 metres behind the car, there was a pair of shining eyes. They were joined by another, then another. Three hyenas. We searched around. No more eyes. Two of us, three of them. The odds seemed reasonable…

They had one of the bags and started dragging it up the hill again. “Oi, tschhhh! Get away” we called in a whispered shout (we didn’t want to wake up the other campers…). Needless to say that had absolutely no effect at all. Gareth grabbed Slasher, one of our trusty anti-snake and baboon sticks, from the car. Slasher is thinner than Basher and makes a great sound when whipped through the air. The hyenas backed off. We grabbed Basher and moved forward, swishing and whisper-shouting. Bit by bit they backed off, but didn’t run off, all the time facing and watching us. We got the first bag and then looked for the second. Gareth found some of the spilled firewood and threw it at the hyenas. They backed off further. We picked out the bag in the torch light, a little further up the hill, and cautiously retrieved it. I think it’s fair to say we were, in the colloquial vernacular, “bricking it”. The slashing kept the hyenas at bay. We threw the bags and the untouched tent cover onto the roof. But Angela still needed a wee…

The ablution block was about 100 metres away. No-one else was awake, including the camp guard! We made our way over, keeping a careful eye on the hyenas as we went. As soon as we started walking they started heading back towards the car. Shit. We made it to the loo and shut the door behind us. Necessities over, we pondered our next move. Having shut ourselves in we couldn’t see outside so we had no idea where the hyenas were. “Well, we cant stay here all night”. Hearts pounding we inched open the door and, torches flicking all over the place, crept back to the car trying to look as fierce and fearless as we could. There was no sign of the hyenas. We quickly clambered back into the tent and, after a few more shared expletives, reflected upon our encounter. We weren’t convinced we had acted wisely in taking the beasties on but hey, it had worked out ok and that’s what mattered now. We tried to go back to sleep but every little noise, of which there were many, had us holding our breath, listening. Was it the hyenas coming back? How high could they jump? As you can imagine, not much sleep was had for the rest of the night. But eventually morning came and we had no more carnivorous.

It was a tired Gareth and Angela that left the park that morning, with our rescued firewood and braai bags intact if a little chewed. After much deliberation we had decided not to go north and into Tanzania. Amongst other places, we had wanted to visit the Serengeti and Ngorogoro Crater National Parks, iconic wildlife areas that we’d love to have seen. But, as foreign tourists, it would have cost us $350 per day to get into the parks and that didn’t include camping fees which were also high. With visitor numbers down, the government had the great idea last year of putting the prices up by 18%. That’ll fix it, eh? Anyway, it was too much for our budget so we were heading for the border with Zambia to make our way south again.

2 thoughts on “Thieving Hyenas

  1. Sandra Woodham says:

    We know all about Angela wanting a wee – we were crying with laughter reading the blog recalling when we were all sailing in the BVI and Angela was hanging off the back of the boat, loo roll in hand!!! xxxx (Alan has never been the same since!!)


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